Solo, by William Boyd

It is no easy task to continue the story of another, however when I discovered that William Boyd had written a ‘James Bond’ novel, I knew that the continuation of this franchise would be safe in the hands of one of my favourite and most compelling authors. Solo certainly didn’t disappoint.

Set in 1969, holding Bond at the full age of around 45 and a long career to look back on, Solo keeps to all the hallmarks of a classic Bond tale. As a dubious mission to end a war in Zanzarim takes a turn for the worse, Bond finds himself embarking on his own agenda to discover the truth to matters. Utilising old contacts, daring cunning and, of course, his license to kill, Bond proves once again that it’s a dire mistake to cross this affamed double 0.

It is of little surprise that the master author of the spy novel Restless would soon turn his hand to the classic series of British espionage loved the world over. Boyd’s exquisite knowledge of the finer cuisine and fashionable tastes certainly lend well to our worldy and charming protagonist, attributing Bond with an even greater suave than perhaps managed by even Fleming himself. Boyd’s own history with Africa similarly explains his attraction to this setting, through which he fully utilises his experiences to present an authentic take on the country and its culture.

With a plethora of loveable clichés, character traits and exotic settings, Solo is indeed a true likeness to Fleming’s classic series. Action, seduction and espionage. What more could you ask of our 007?

Length: 322 (Vintage)
Overall Rating: 3.5 stars

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The Man in the High Castle, by Philip K. Dick

What would life be like if the Allies had lost the Second World War? In an imaginative alternate reality, Philip K. Dick creates a world in which Japan occupies America, and the Nazis are moving their totalitarian conquest on to the solar system.

From out of this far-fetched yet compelling fiction stems a number of interrelated tales, as Japanese officials, American labourers and German spies search for meaning in a world of changed cultures and oppressive conquest.

Dick’s imaginative portrayal of this post-war world lends very much to a warped mirrored image of our own reality. As opposed to an American influence spreading across the world, there is instead a strong focus on Asian traditions, the author going so far as to change his very writing style with certain characters, to hint at a Japanese form of English.

In a delicate balance, The Man in the High Castle explores the outcomes of a victorious occupation immersing the population in Japanese culture, whilst maintaining a confusion of underlying American ideals. It is from this mismatch of east meeting west that a series of lost souls search for meaning in America, as so many pilgrims of the present and past.

For all it’s alternative vision, the message of this peice is however resoundingly clear. Regardless of the passage of history, of who wins which war and who remains in power, humanity never changes.

Length: 256 (Penguin Classics)
Overall Rating: 4 stars

And the Mountains Echoed, by Khaled Hosseini

Unlike his other novels, affamed for their heartbreaking and tellingly brutal tales, And the Mountains Echoed forges a story of another kind of sadness.

Staying true to his customary theme of Afghanistan, Hosseini begins his novel following the lives of two twins, bound inseparable in their first years but subject like so many to the inescapable whims of poverty and survival.

It is from their stories that a series of other interlinking narratives unfold, following the tales of characters spanning the world over, each with some part of their life ever relating them back to Afghanistan.

Interestingly, this means that a significant portion of the novel features a wealthier, Western living, not the usual hardships of Taliban rule and oppresiveness so featured in his other novels. And the Mountains Echoed approaches the violence and oppresiveness Afghanistan experienced from a much more detached nature. Rather than delve directly into such hardship, it instead remains poised at its very edge looking in, much as the many thousands of luckier and more privileged souls do throughout their lives.

Hosseini’s message, told in his encapsulating prose, is one of family and home. That no matter how far you may go, how different a life you may forge, the past is ever a part of you which you cannot simply shed. We all have a calling to our birthplace and home, it is up to us whether we answer it, or forever shut it away.

Length: 463 (Bloomsbury)

Overall Rating: 3.5 stars

The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins

A global hit, The Girl On the Train is yet another gripping addition to the plethora of thrillers lining the bestseller charts. With romance, scandal, death and despair, this novel certainly meets all the genre’s hallmarks with great impact.

Following the story of Rachel, a hopeless alcoholic struggling through her daily commute, there soon unfolds a tale of confusion, doubt and violent remorse. With memory the enemy, and no one believing her suspicions, the novel’s sorry protagonist quickly descends deeper and deeper into a plot which will make her question not only herself, but her very life.

Overall, this is a very enjoyable read, drawing suspicions and casting doubt with every turn of the page. You can almost picture the author taking the train each day, drawing inspiration for her work out from the monotony of her daily commute.

The Girl On the Train is a credit to the author’s imagination, turning an ordinary setting into an elaborate thriller.

Length: 416 (Black Swan)

Overall Rating: 3 stars

Norwegian Wood, by Haruki Murakami

Set during the late 1960s, Norwegian Wood is a heartfelt ode to adolescence, filled with both the mindless and mindful meanderings of the young soul struggling along the path to maturity.

Murakami’s artful prose captures the pure essence of this age, reaching out to the unanswerable questions of life and love, as well as the transitory struggles for meaning in the adult world. It is from the tale of the stoic and utterly sincere Watanabe that these themes are laid bare.

Norwegian Wood is filled with vivid characters, each desperate to find meaning and explore their emotions. Through a variety of intricate and somewhat random acts, conversations and occurrences, Murakami tells the tale of youthful heartache. Much apart from his other novels,

Norwegian Wood was Murakami’s first seemingly conventional work, straying from the wonderful and fictional imaginings of his others. Despite this, it is also one of his most famous, raising his readership to the millions, and one which every young person should hold in their repertoire.

Length: 389 (Vintage)

Overall Rating: 5 stars

Relics, by Tim Lebbon

In a world where cyclops, satyrs and nymphs are as real as the dinosaurs of the past, Relics is another creative take on the folklore and myths famous throughout humanity.

The novel follows the story of a young couple, whose comfortable lives are soon thrown ever deeper into an underground world unknown to most, where ‘relics’ remembered only in tale and lore are discovered to be only all too real. Curiosity soon turns into a fight for survival, as Angela and Vince are balanced between a fantastical world and the devastating greed of mankind.

The modern age hosts a plethora of classical mythical beings cast in a variety of ways, and Relics is certainly another example of this. Whilst the premise of the narrative is entertaining enough, the ingenuity and style required to make such a classically-fueled novel truly stand out was however somewhat lacking. With a number of clichés and some slightly forced background additions to the narrative, Relics was unfortunately missing the lustre needed to take it a level above.

Despite this, with plenty of action and a few twists and turns, Relics is still an enjoyable and creative read, told at a pace that will hold your interest from start to finish.

Length: 384 (Titan)

Overall Rating: 2.5 stars

 

Mr Mercedes, by Stephen King

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The master of horror becomes the master of thriller. Mr Mercedes is a highly energetic novel, bearing all the hallmarks of a classic detective tale.


Set in an American city, Mr Mercedes follows the story of recently retired detective Bill Hodges. After an impressive career, Hodges is soon lured from his newly innate retired life of junk food and daytime TV by the resurgence of a past terror, the classic “perp that got away”. As mysteries are uncovered and tragedies begin to pile one upon the other, it soon becomes clear that no one can ever truly quit the chase.

Though the novel bears little creative ingenuity, a simple psychopath-pitted-against-justice novel, King’s engaging writing style certainly keeps the reader hooked. The prominence of modern technology also adds a new dimension to the classic crime mystery, with the old school detective persistently thrown off the scent by the ingenuity of technologically fueled madness.

Overall an entertaining and easy read, good for the summer, but readers looking for more intrigue had better revert back to the disturbing horrors the author was made famous for. Despite this, with its fair share of action, romance, comedy and tragedy, Mr Mercedes is a strong debut thriller from the world famous King.

Length: 432 (Hodder paperbacks)
Overall Rating: 3 stars